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Are You Bored by This Daily Dog Routine?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

dog walking

Story at-a-glance -

  • Dog walks are without question great for our pets, but many people don’t realize how good they are for humans, too
  • Dog walkers tend to be more active overall than people without dogs and are in better physical shape than people who walk with other people
  • While most dog parents aim to walk their four-legged friend each day, nearly half fail to do so, for a variety of reasons (and excuses!)
  • Rather than a drudgery, it’s easy to make dog walks fun by changing them up
  • There are many types of walks to try, including power walks, change-of-scenery walks, walks with friends and “sniffaris”

Most pet parents know walks are an extremely beneficial activity for their dogs, but I'm not sure how many realize just how wonderful those walks can be for their own health. Walking is an excellent low-impact exercise, which can be especially important for pets and people who don't get around as well as they used to or have a chronic condition that prevents more vigorous activity.

Walking gets the blood flowing, which improves circulation. It also burns calories, gives you a chance to be outdoors, puts your dog's paws in direct contact with the earth and strengthens the bond you share with your furry best friend.

Walking With Your Dog May Be Better for You Than Walking With a Human

Interestingly, there's a growing body of research that suggests people who regularly walk their dog are more likely to be in better physical shape than people who also walk regularly — but with other people. Even older people are more apt to take regular walks when their walking partner is a dog rather than a human.

A 2011 study conducted by Michigan State University (MSU) reported that over half of regular dog walkers are considered "moderate" or "vigorous" exercisers according to federal criteria.1 In addition, dog walkers are more active overall than people without dogs. About half of all dog walkers get an average of 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. Among non-dog owners, only a third got that much exercise.

One of the goals of the MSU study was to determine whether dog walking adds to the amount of exercise people get or whether it replaces other types of physical activity.

According to the researchers, dog walkers had higher overall levels of moderate and vigorous physical activity than other study participants and spent more of their free time in energetic pursuits like sports and gardening. On average, dog parents who regularly walked their pets exercised about 30 minutes more per week than people without dogs.

Nearly Half the Owners in This Study Don't Walk Their Dogs Daily

According to a 2016 study, although most dog parents intend to walk their pet daily, nearly half don't follow through.2 There were many reasons cited for these failures, including owners who were dealing with an injury or long-term illness or looking after young or school-age children, dog "laziness" (seriously?) and most commonly, lack of time. To address this "intention-behavior gap," the researchers suggested:

  • Finding more enjoyable places to walk
  • Setting a concrete plan to walk
  • Making walking your dog a habit by setting routines and cues
  • Making affirmations of commitment

Thinking About Dog Walks in a Whole New Way

Many pet parents tend to look at dog walks as chores to be quickly finished, and I think part of the reason is they're simply in a rut. They're not using their imaginations. There are actually lots of ways to change up your dog walking routine that can make it fun for both you and your canine BFF, and something you look forward to. Different types of dog walks:

1. Purposeful walks — These are typically short and have a specific goal, for example, walking your dog to her potty spot.

2. Training walks — These walks can be about improving leash manners, learning basic or advanced obedience commands, ongoing socialization, or anything else you can think of that can be done on a leashed walk. Be sure to bring some healthy training treats on these outings.

Ongoing training throughout your dog's life is a great way to keep his faculties sharp and boredom at bay. It's also a wonderful way to strengthen the bond between you and your pet.

3. Power walks — Power walks keep your dog's frame strong, his weight in check, and help alleviate arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases. These walks can also be an essential method for ensuring your dog gets the exercise he needs, as long as you're consistent with them.

Remember: A healthy dog needs to exercise an absolute minimum of every three days (every other day is better; every day is ideal) at an intensity that elevates his heart rate for 20 minutes to maintain cardiovascular conditioning and muscle tone. If your dog is out of shape, you'll need to start slow and build gradually to 20 minutes per power walk.

4. Mentally stimulating walks — Most leashed dogs don't get to spend nearly as much time sniffing and investigating as they would like, so allowing your pet some time to explore is good mental stimulation for her. These walks allow her to stop, sniff, investigate, and pick up and send pee-mail. Dogs accumulate knowledge about the world through their noses.

5. Sniffaris — I don't know who coined this term, but I love it! Sniffaris are walks during which your dog takes the lead, you follow and he gets to sniff whatever he pleases. Sniffaris are upgraded mentally stimulating walks, more or less, with your dog making all the navigational and investigational decisions!

6. Change-of-scenery walks — Instead of heading outside in the same old direction, buckle your dog in and drive a few blocks away or to a neighborhood park or nearby hiking trail for your walk. Both you and she will find new things to see, smell and experience.

7. Walks with friends — If your dog is comfortable around other dogs, consider meeting up with neighbors or friends with dogs for group walks. Everyone on two legs and four gets to socialize and exercise simultaneously, and dog parents can also be valuable resources for one another.

8. Different dog-walker walks — Everyone walks a dog a little differently, so the more members of your household who walk your dog, the more variety she'll enjoy. And since walks done right are bonding experiences, everyone in the family gets to spend one-on-one time with the dog.

A variation on this if you work outside the home is to hire a professional dog walker a few times a week or ask a willing friend or neighbor to take your dog out for a walk in your absence.

One of the most important things you can give your dog whenever you interact with him, including on walks, is your undivided attention. Put down the phone and other distractions and let your dog know through your focus on him how much he means to you.

Carri Westgarth, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Liverpool and the lead author of a 2017 study titled "I Walk My Dog Because It Makes Me Happy: A Qualitative Study to Understand Why Dogs Motivate Walking and Improved Health"3 also suggests leaving your cell phone behind to thoroughly enjoy the walk and the time with your dog.

"Dog walking can be really important for our mental health, and there is no joy like seeing your dog having a good time," Westgarth told Health Newsletter. "In this age of information and work overload, let's thank our dogs for — in the main — being such a positive influence on our well-being … leave the mobile and worries at home and try to focus on observing our dog and appreciating our surroundings."4